28 April 2009

Rave Review: Erika-San by Allen Say

I have to confess to a soft spot for Allen Say. He is the author of one of my all-time favorite picture books, the Caldecott Winning Grandfather's Journey, which is the finest writing I have ever read about the immigrant conundrum--loving two places at once. In his latest book, Say has written again about a subject which is very close to my heart--the realization that you are out-of place; that you sense your heart's proper home is somewhere else, and the relentless journey to get there. The protagonist, an American child named Erika, knew from a very early age that she wanted to live in Japan, from the moment she saw a bucolic print hanging on her grandmother's wall. And not just any where in Japan--she had her eye on a specific spot. A specific tone, if you will. Erika's single-minded ambition to find that place that is burned into her memory leads her from the crowds of Tokyo to a small rural community where she becomes a foreigner teaching in a place where she does not feel foreign at all. The way in which Say tells the story of how Erika finds her home, not just physically but spiritually, is incredibly moving. By mirroring Erika's journey with her relationship with a local man, Say has created one of his most straightforward and accessible books in recent memory. This is a lovely and delicate book and reinforces Say's prowess as one of the finest writers of multi-cultural discussion for children.

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